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U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner: “It’s Time to Get Serious about Science”

At a time when some public officials are quick to mock quirky-sounding science, the new Golden Goose Awards honor the basic research that is essential to innovation, U.S. Representative Jim Cooper and AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner say in a Washington Post commentary.

The awards, backed by a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers and a coalition of science, business, and education leaders, will be bestowed for the first time tonight (Thursday 13 September) to several winners in a Capitol Hill ceremony. The commentary was published in the Post on Sunday 9 September.

The winners’ research may sound esoteric—the nervous system of jellyfish, for example, or the microstructure of coral, or algorithms for ranking Web pages. But it has produced innovation of exceptional value to humanity, write Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat, and Leshner, who also serves as executive publisher of the journal Science.

U.S. Representative Jim Cooper and AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner

“It is human nature to chuckle at a study titled ‘Acoustic Trauma in the Guinea Pig,’ yet this research led to a treatment for hearing loss in infants,” the authors write. “Yes, ‘the sex life of the screwworm’ sounds funny. But a $250,000 study of this pest, which is lethal to livestock, has, over time, saved the U.S. cattle industry more than $20 billion.”

“Similar examples abound. Transformative technologies such as the Internet, fiber optics, the Global Positioning System, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computer touch-screens and lithium-ion batteries were all products of federally funded research.”

Such innovation has been critically important to economic growth in the United States, and will be even more so as global scientific research becomes increasingly competitive. But today’s economic challenges and budget-cutting pressures put federal research investment at risk, Leshner and Cooper say.

They conclude that the Golden Goose Awards signify support among a broad sector of American society for a strong, continuing federal commitment to basic research.